Magaly Pazello, activist and specialist researcher in gender and information and communication technologies, recently joined the team that developed the Brazil report for the UN's Universal Periodic Review. In discussion with Flavia Fascendini, the editor of GenderIT.org, Pazello confirmed that there is still a great deal to do with regards to the connection between women's rights and a broad understanding of the internet.
Flavia Fascendini (FF): How does the UPR work in Brazil? What is the process of researching inputs for the report? How does the process move along and sustain itself over time? What actions have already been taken (or will be taken) in Brazil to disseminate the theme?
Magaly Pazello* (MP): Firstly, we need to understand that the Universal Periodic Review integrates a set of actions on the global level related to the International System of Human Rights. I would like to emphasise the fact that inputs for the reports presented by civil society for the UPR are also of assistance for reports presented in other instances of the International System of Human Rights such as CEDAW, for example. Moreover, the inputs are a result of monitoring of human rights in Brazil by organisations concerned with violations and abuse of these rights either by public or private agents.
The review process is determined by the UN and consists of a review of the human rights situations of member states by a committee. Various entities, including civil society organisations, may send reports that are compiled by the High Commission for Human Rights. In the first review, Brazil accepted and complied with all the recommendations made by the committee. In this second review, the ways in which these recommendations were implemented will be confirmed - what was successful and what needs improvement.
However, it is not easy to mobilise civil society organisations to take part in the process. At this time, the different organisations involved with the UPR are distributing information, promoting the debate and monitoring the process both in Geneva and in Brazil. Owing to the high cost of travelling to Geneva, NGOs taking part in meetings of the Human Rights Council had to participate remotely, as was the case for the Internet Governance Forum.
FF: What do you think will be efficient tools for advocates of women’s rights and gender equality working with ICTs to increase awareness of the importance of the UPR?
MP: In Brazil, but also in other places, advocates of women’s rights and gender equality do not always work with ICTs or, when they do, it is in a way that is more instrumental than political. Those who work effectively with ICTs as a political tool are few and/or far between. The work is therefore more complicated as it also means having to build this new political field from the gender perspective.
But answering the question on tools that are efficient, I believe that there is sufficient critical mass to understand the relevance of international human rights instruments, including from the viewpoint of the challenges and limitations of these instruments. However, “sufficient” does not mean “enough”, and there is still a long way to go, because even the International System of Human Rights is something recent in the history of humanity. However, we also have the methodologies to enable us to characterise and deepen this debate from theory and feminist political action.
We cannot forget that, in the current political context, in which forces of conservatism and religious dogmatism are gaining significant ground in the local and global public political arena, it is very important to produce quality information. Above all, it is important to confront the counter-information actions generated within movements resisting concretisation of the integrity and inviolability of women’s human rights and their independence. Pressure groups aligned with different types of religious dogmatism conduct campaigns against human rights committees using the argument that the Universal Periodic Review serves “Northern” imperialism to the detriment of the economic “South” and prejudices national sovereignty, for example.
FF: How do you think women are “connecting their rights” online?
MP: In order to really find out how women in general are connecting their rights “online”, we would need to conduct an extensive survey or numerous surveys in this regard. Generally speaking, according to research conducted by the Internet Management Committee in Brazil (CGI.br - Comitê Gestor da Internet no Brasil) ) in 2010, women, compared with the men in the sample, use the internet more for information on health and education and place less importance on games, with access to films and software, and use VoIP less. In the search for information in general and in the use of electronic government, there is parity between the sexes.
I note that women who access the internet take part in discussions on the most varied themes, whether on internet newspaper and magazines sites, public opinion formation blogs, blogs with which they are ideologically aligned, Twitter or social networks. Their opinions, comments, complaints and claims reveal that they belong to different social strata and have different world visions.
Although strategic use of the internet is continually being improved and we are witnessing the emergence of more important online discussion and information spaces, there are many gaps to be filled with regard to the women’s movement. The connection between rights and a broad understanding of the internet is a vast area to be developed.
FF: As indicated by the report presented by the WNSP of the APC, Nupef and the Observatory on Sexuality and Politics (Observatório de Sexualidade e Política), the first UPR cycle did not include a reference to human rights and the internet in Brazil. What changed with regard to women’s internet rights between the first and second UPR cycles in Brazil?
MP: The relationship between the internet and human rights was not a concern in 2008. There was not a great deal of mobilisation in general for reports to be compiled for the UPR. However, from the point of view of the internet and ICTs, between 2007 and 2008 we were involved in a more local/national process with the discussion on the so-called Azeredo Law (See the final report of the EROTICS research in Brazil.), the investigation commission in the National Congress, on account of complaints of paedophilia, and the initial mobilisation which resulted in presentation of the Internet Civil Rights Framework (Marco Civil da Internet).
This moment has passed and, with the changes on the international as well as the national scene, the UPR has appeared as an opportunity for civil society to echo problems and concerns related to various human rights matters. It is also the reason for Brazil’s action in favour of weakening the supranational human rights monitoring authorities. However, at the beginning of March 2012, President Dilma Roussef determined a change in Brazil’s foreign policy in relation to human rights.
We should also consider the fact that the relationship between human rights and the internet was more limited to arenas and political stakeholders involved with the theme of internet governance; in other words, how our human rights intersect with internet governance and vice-versa.
We have no specific debate on women’s internet rights, we do not even have a more substantial and extensive debate on human rights and the internet. From a critical point of view, there is still no clear understanding about the intersections between the internet, human rights, individual freedoms, democracy and citizenship and how these intersections are realised in daily life; even less on how the more technical or specific themes related to internet governance impact on other political arenas and fields.
Although the discussion of the Internet Civil Rights Framework mobilized the attention of various sectors of society, when we look at the internet in its complexity, there is great difficulty in deepening the debate. My perception is that there have been no significant changes related to human rights and the internet with specific reference to women and girls. However, an important step was taken by the CGI.br in 2009 with the approval of the charter for internet governance and use.
FF: Concretely, according to the report, what was successful with regard to the respect and exercise of women’s internet rights?
MP: In the report, we present what worked well and we offer considerations and recommendations on the central theme on the basis of the most relevant concerns within the current context.
From the point of view of decisions and policies related to the internet, it may be said that Brazil has moved up a notch with regard to improving mechanisms for the participation of social movements and society in general, based on public meetings. From the point of view of women’s human rights, there have been steps forward as well as backward. A significant point was the long discussion process of the Maria da Penha Law, which typifies and punishes crimes against women, from its preparation and approval up to the establishment of its correct interpretation and application by the judicial system.
On the other hand, at the end of December 2011, Dilma Roussef published a provisional measure (mechanism with the force of law) which created compulsory registration of all pregnant women in the public and private healthcare network. This compulsory registration was vehemently contested by various sectors of society as a violation of women’s rights. This provisional measure is concrete proof of the concerns indicated in the report on human rights and internet compiled for the UPR. In my view, we have very little to celebrate with regard to internet issues, particularly those which affect women.
FF: The report recommends that gender and race aspects be considered as cross-cutting themes for the development of national human rights indicators. From your point of view, what are some of the essential indicators that need to be taken into consideration?
MP: Truthfully, the recommendation is in essence that gender and race are cross-cutting aspects in the development of indicators for the national system of monitoring human rights; in other words, of all indicators and not only some. Let us remember that the creation of this national system was a recommendation implemented by Brazil during the first UPR cycle.
We should also point out the fact that, when this action was implemented, no consideration was given to the need to monitor the internet as an interface with human rights, with special reference to freedom of expression and thought, privacy, access to information and women’s rights. We should highlight the increasing volume of content characterised as hate speech, which in Brazil has specific targets: feminists, gays, lesbians, transsexuals and transgenderists as well as persons of African descent.
In addition to the problem of the protection of personal information, violation of privacy and confidentiality, there is limited access to information that has gender and race biases. This requires a better understanding of this situation via indicators and the necessary monitoring, but also via surveys. However, dialogue with the federal government has been difficult in this area.
FF: What ways ahead do you recommend so that the debate on freedom of expression and privacy specifically tackles issues of gender and sexuality, particularly for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals that, according to the report, is a major failing?
MP: The debate on freedom of expression is more developed in Brazil than that of privacy which is still in the beginning stages.
With regards to freedom of expression, attention should be drawn to two aspects where there is abuse of the concept. The first aspect is the resistance of the major communications companies, especially television channels, to the “layered regulation” of the media, where there is a precise definition of responsibilities related to content production and distribution. These companies, particularly the Globo network, declare that this proposed regulation will prejudice the freedom of expression of journalists and content producers in general. This is a false statement but one which appeals to the idea of freedom contained in human rights and the right to information.
Another aspect is that dogmatic religious groups have called for the right to freedom of expression with the objective of promoting online content that is against sexual and reproductive rights, sometimes going as far as hate speech against gays and feminists. However, there is tension in this regard and a dispute around the definition and application of freedom of expression.
As for privacy, the debate needs to take shape and gain substance. The above-mentioned provisional measure is a good example of this. What we mention in the report in relation to electronic health actions, telemedicine and information on health, are relevant aspects today for consideration in the debate on privacy and the protection of personal information.
The EROTICS survey conducted in Brazil raised questions about content regulation and privacy and its relationship with sexuality and online interactions that needs to be better understood both with regard to individual freedom and civil rights and on the political level.
FF: One part of the report specifically deals with the internet and sexual and reproductive rights as a new and emerging area. Here, there is evidence of the complex intersections between reproductive rights, the right to access information, the right to privacy and the right to confidentiality, all on the internet. What are your most immediate concerns in this regard as a researcher and activist?
MP: There are many concerns, especially as there are two legislative proposals pending in the National Congress: the draft law for the protection of personal information and the Internet Civil Rights Framework which, depending on the political scene, may be sidelined.
Implementation of the recommendation on access to information includes the development of a draft law on the protection of personal information which is generally stored electronically. Despite being an advance, the proposal of the law to protect personal information still has many gaps in the proposed legislation, related to the inappropriate collection and storage of this information according to international privacy and human rights norms.
Another serious problem we are facing relates to access to information on health for contentious subjects such as abortion. As abortion is prohibited in Brazil, except in cases of rape and when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, it is difficult to find safe, quality, non-discriminatory information in layman’s language on the subject. For example, organisations may not make information available in Brazil on misoprostol (which is one of the drugs used for abortion) under risk of having to answer for the “crime”.
FF: Although the report places a lot of emphasis on issues related to women and gender, it does not make special mention of the problem of violence against women, exercised via the Internet, which has assumed new and different forms in recent times. What place do you believe the subject should occupy?
MP: The reports presented in the second UPR cycle were restricted to the subjects broached. However, we have specific legislation on violence against women and when these reports were already being compiled, the CEDAW revision process took place at the end of February 2012. During this second UPR round, attention was focused on several aspects of internet governance and access to information and knowledge, taking as an example the area of health, protection of personal information and civil rights.
Violence against woman exercised via the internet is a complex, multi-faceted issue which takes place across the internet but is not necessarily derived from the use of the internet or its technological and political development. This issue should occupy a central place in discussions on violence in general. However, in my view, it should not be the only and exclusive subject when we are discussing the internet and women’s human rights.
The interviewer especially wishes to thank Joy Liddicoat for her fundamental collaboration during the process of compiling inputs for the report presented to the Brazil UPR.
The article is a part of APC's “Connect your rights: Internet rights are human rights” campaign financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)